#GreatBigLift a #GreatBigDeal

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Darlene MacDonald had one thought on Friday morning as she watched the Ship Hector slowly be lifted out of Pictou Harbour: “Finally something positive is being done in order to improve what we have.”

Friday was a #GreatBigDay in a #GreatBigWay.

That’s the day the replica Ship Hector was lifted from the harbour into a wooden cradle at the Hector Heritage Quay where it will undergo renovations. The move is the result of more than a year and a half of planning.

Millimeter by millimeter, the #GreatBigLift took place with hundreds of spectators gathered along Caladh Avenue and vicinity to watch.

A director with the non-profit Ship Hector Society that owns the ship MacDonald says, “We’ve never had the funds or the funding to do the work that we wanted on the ship and we reached a point where something had to be done; we couldn’t continue to do ‘Band-aid’ solutions. We have to do it right this time.”

More than 48,000 Facebook views and counting as people watched the historic event from around the world: Tasmania, Texas, Florida and all over the United States, the UK, across Canada. “That says a lot to us, that all of these people from around the world watched,” said MacDonald. “And the importance of the Hector to people across the globe.”

Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan praised the event and the volunteers who made it happen.

“There was a tremendous amount of work done in the background to get to this point, but for the general public to actually see something happen to the ship… I think it will create momentum for the Ship Hector Society and for Pictou waterfront.”

It took a 400-tonne crane operated by A.W. Leil Cranes and Equipment to lift the 162 metric tonne wooden Ship Hector out of the water and onto the wooden blocks.

The lift itself was awe-inspiring and surreal. “I think it was the quiet of the whole operation that amazed me the most. The professionalism of the crew — there was no scrambling or shouting, everything just moved in perfect harmony. It was quite amazing.”

Watching from the sidelines was Central Nova MP Sean Fraser.

“The Ship Hector played an important role in the history of our region. Being of Scottish descent and playing the bagpipes since I was a little kid, the cultural significance of the Ship Hector to Pictou County is not lost on me,” Fraser says. “One of the things I’m excited about is to see how we can use this venue and this asset to help grow the local economy. When we get it repaired and back in the water it could end up being a much more successful tourism draw than it is simply sitting beside the dock and I’m looking forward to seeing that happen.”

Now, the ship will be assessed for repairs and a work plan will be developed. “We’ve always said the saltwater is good for the ship,” says MacDonald, so the SHS was happy to learn the bottom of the ship is in better condition than they expected. “That was a nice surprise for us.”

Repairs, she explains, are contingent on the non-profit SHS securing government and corporate funding. To help with fundraising, the Hector Heritage Quay has started an online 50-50 fundraiser. Learn more about by visiting the Ship Hector on Facebook.

The restoration work will be done over a two-year period so that the tourist attraction could eventually be used for revenue-generating charters. More than 10,000 people annually visit the Quay. “We have the highest visitation rate of any similar type entity in northern Nova Scotia, other than the Museum of Industry which is open year-round.”

Ryan agrees. “The Ship Hector and the Quay have certainly been iconic tourist attractions for the Town of the Pictou and for the entire Northumberland Shore. It has been a focal point and will develop again as a key to attracting tourists to the area.”

There are also plans to mechanize the vessel and upgrade the interpretive centre on the waterfront, which is more than 20 years old. Current estimated cost for repairs and motorizing of the ship is $1.7 million, just repairs without mechanization would be $1.3 million. Improvements to the interpretive centre are estimated to cost an additional $2.14 million.

The Ship Hector Society Board of Directors has committed to raising $1.5 million for the work and will be reaching out to all levels of government for support. As well, a capital campaign will target the corporate community, individuals and supporters.

It all leads to a big celebration in 2023, the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Scottish settlers to Pictou. The Town of Pictou will celebrate its 150th anniversary the same year.

If a rising tide floats all boats, local businesses should be prepared for the influx of tourists and people interested in the restoration progress.

Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane referred to the #GreatBigLift as “extraordinary”. “We have to be reminded that this is an economic driver in our region and it’s definitely a location that brings many tourists and people from all over the world who are coming to research their ancestry. It’s a day of good feeling, of positivity and advancement into moving forward into the project and all of the events that will be taking place in the future with it.”


The Ship Hector is gently lowered into its new home: a wooden cradle of blocks at the Hector Heritage Quay where it will undergo repairs and renovations in a project expected to take two years. (Brimicombe photo)